Fried Sage Leaves – Finally A Garnish Which Isn’t Just A Pretty Face

“…dragging the branches a few at a time into a batter no thicker than cream, she slips the dripping things into the hot oil, letting them be until they rise to the surface of the now bubbling oil, the force of which turns them over – without a prod – to crust the other side of them….she saves apple peelings and sage leaves for the last, since they are what she herself, craves most.”

Marlena de Blasi, The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club

When I went to the guitar (classic and rock music) festival in Bath a couple of years ago, I came out of an inspiring Richard Thompson concert in search of a restaurant still serving.

Thompson played his iconic 1952 Vincent Black Lightening song about a thief named James, not the first man to utilise the attractions of his vehicle to charm his coveted girl – in this case, Red Molly. Go to the bottom of this post to hear this treat.

how to make fried sage leaves
A thief named James – not the first man to use his fabulous vehicle to attract a girl. Image courtesy CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Just around the corner from Three Abbey Green, the B&B where I was staying (see thermal coffee pots) I finally managed to find The Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen and I had a really excellent mushroom risotto which was the inspiration for my Trumpets of the Dead risotto recipe.

They served this risotto with fried sage leaves. They are wonderfully crunchy, burstingly flavourful, and professional-standard impressive, so I had to get a grip of these little beauties.

These are also good on tagliatelle with tapenade.

They good with poached pork in milk.

Or serve them as a kind of tapas with a glass of cold prosecco.

At the Wolseley in London, they serve crispy sage leaves with their liver and bacon.

After much experimentation I developed this method:

Method for making ’52 Vincent Motorbike Fried Sage Leaves

  1. Fill a wide brimmed glass with sparkling water.
  2. Separate however many sage leaves you think you need from their stems.
  3. Fill a small saucepan with vegetable oil up to about an inch (two cm) and get it smoking hot.
  4. Dip the leaves individually into the water, then put them gently on a plate.
  5. Sieve over a VERY light sprinkling of flour, and sprinkle over some smoked salt (not too much) and grind over some pepper.
  6. Drop into the hot oil and leave for about twenty seconds to sizzle until crispy and golden.
  7. Pull out gently with tongs and drain on kitchen paper.

Music to cook to

Hear Richard Thompson tell the story of James and Red Molly, below: